I did not specifically choose Zambia after reading through the website. I travelled with a friend and she was determined to go to Africa. I was initially keen on Asia, but I did not what to go anywhere alone. We chose Zambia and it was the best compromise of my life - I absolutely loved it!
The hospital was a new experience for me since as a paramedic student I was more used to placements on road. So, to put it simply all the people, sights, sounds and smells were new. I was most surprised about the facility itself. The staff had to make do with a lack of resources to do the best for their patients and I definitely learned so much from their resourcefulness. As a paramedic student I think I learned a lot for my own practice as resources are limited in the field and being resourceful is an extremely valuable skill.
I would actually like to share a snippet from my diary entry for one of the days with the most memorable cases I was involved in...
“Started the day super tired because my roomie and I stayed up late making brownies. Woke up feeling less than optimal but it was another one of those chilled mornings where the students discussed different cases and scenarios. Who knew just running through scenarios could be this much fun!
The morning was interesting with a few medical cases but then a man came in with a AAA rupture, I couldn’t feel a pulse or hear the heart. He was dead. The brother came in and just broke down in the middle of the ER when he was told the news. Watching him cry was hard. The senior doctor then did a mini lesson on ACS and then another lesson on Aortic dissection and now I’m convinced I’ve chosen the right field!
I want to learn and have the same passion for my patients, the same curiosity for learning and the same enthusiasm for teaching as he does. If the morning didn’t confirm it the afternoon mass casualty incident definitely did. At first a lady with a scalp injury came in and I started the assessment with my supervisor and then I blinked the room was filled with 8 patients! There are only 3 beds in the room. There wasn’t a patient who wasn’t bleeding. The room was suddenly filled with nurses and doctors from the whole ED and the disaster room was opened so now there wasn’t a shortage of resources; I could just yell out from across the room and gauze would come flying at me.
At first I felt useless just frantically doing vitals on patients around me but then the senior doctor started delegating roles. I was assigned to help the doctor’s suture. I became a walking suture station, filling my pockets with syringes, needles, gauze and lignocaine. It was hot and sticky and sweaty, and I had blood on my shoes and hands and all around me, but I just felt so ideally challenged! I knew just enough to be helpful but there was so much I didn’t know so I was learning every minute. It didn’t matter where I turned, I could learn something new. This trip not only challenged me but reignited my passion for my profession and my passion for people.”
As a student I had the opportunity to be involved in cases I would only catch twice in a career back home. The experience was invaluable to my career both from a clinical and personal perspective.
Watching the doctors conduct procedures I had only read about like spinal taps and central lines and even just jugular IVs was an experience that I couldn’t get back home. I was even invited to watch some neurosurgery; I got to watch a ventriculoperitoneal shunt being placed in a young boy. The staff and students at the hospital were friendly and patient. They were keen to help me settle in and freely answered questions and showed me the procedures in the ED.
The staff at the Work the World house were so considerate, they thought of everything and I never once felt unsure or unsafe. They were there when I needed them and answered all of my questions. I made some amazing memories at the house with all the amazing people I met. In 3 weeks, I made lifelong friends. Our trips to the local markets and local restaurants were adventures I will never forget.
Interestingly, catching the local bus back home every evening is also an adventure I won’t forget. Asking for directions, walking through markets and exploring the city centre as we walked from one bus stop to another was such a joy. Learning the culture and even just becoming immersed in the pace of the city; I found myself walking slower, talking slower just more relaxed and more observant. I have definitely fallen in love with the place, the people and my profession thanks to this placement!
To any paramedic student or even anyone considering doing a placement in Zambia I would say ‘YOU WON’T REGRET IT’. I would also encourage you to go in openminded, not expecting things to be a certain way but excited to find out all the new ways things can be done.